I keep hearing bad things about GMO foods – how do I avoid them?

A couple of weeks ago I debunked the myth about the differences between organic, conventional, and local foods.  But GMO is yet another piece of that puzzle!


GMO food is food that contains GMOs (genetically modified organisms).  These organisms’ genes have been scientifically altered to produce a specific desirable result.  Genetically modified plants may be:

  • Bred to grow or ripen a certain way (for example, tomatoes have been altered to ripen slowly so that they don’t go bad when shipped long distances),


  • Altered for survival purposes (like herbicide-resistant sugar beets, which stand up to the herbicides that are used to wipe out competitive weeds),
  • Or enhanced to produce extra nutrients (as with golden rice, which is designed to produce beta-carotene)

GMO’s didn’t come about with malignant intent—they were invented to help react to problems like drought, feeding more people, and using fewer pesticides.  To the farmer who is experiencing a loss of crops due to a certain type of bug or disease, doesn’t it sound like a great idea to grow a vegetable that is resistant to those enemies and will require the use of fewer pesticides?


The flip-side is that when you change one part of a plant, it’s hard to know how it will change the way it grows overall.  GM food is not well regulated for safety and has adverse effects on soil and the environment, since it’s a change in nature’s normal path.  So, for the consumer, there is no benefit to eating GM foods, and there is a growing body of evidence linking them to increased allergens.  Without going too deep into the science of genetic engineering, the basic idea is that GM plants are not natural.  And it’s become somewhat common practice to alter plants that we eat!  Two of the most commonly altered (and most controversial) crops are corn and soybeans, both of which found in many foods and drinks.  Papaya and zucchini are also both commonly altered to resist diseases.


In 1990, Europe required mandatory labeling for GM foods, but not in the U.S.  We have been eating GM foods for the past 18 years.  There is limited scientific evidence demonstrating that eating GM food is not safe, but those of us who are looking to lead a healthy lifestyle have a right to know where our food comes from and how is it produced.  Many people think that if you buy organic then you will avoid GM foods, but this is not necessarily true, since the national organic standards do not require GMO testing for a food to be certified organic.  Organic produce may be more likely to be GMO-free, but it’s not a surefire bet.  If you’re buying fresh produce from a farmers’ market, ask the farmer about his or her growing practices and seed suppliers.  That’s why I love growing my own food at the HealthBarn USA garden and  shopping at farmers’ markets—there’s no mystery about where food comes from.  In California, Prop 37 is an initiative on this year’s November ballot petitioning to have mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.


We have our fingers crossed, hoping that the initiative passes in California and spreads around the country (and world)!  Until that day comes, however, we have the non-GMO label to help you tell if a “packaged” product contains GM foods.  And The Non-GMO Project is a great source of information on this topic, and they have plenty of suggestions on how to eat GMO-free!  The only way to be absolutely certain that your food is GMO-free is to grow it yourself, which is the best of all worlds: local, seasonal, 100% transparency.  But in the absence of being able to grow your own food, you can compile a list of reliable local farmers, grocers, or packaged food brands.  This will help you feed your family in a natural, healthy way.

What puzzles you about keeping your family healthy?  Tell Stacey Antine, M.S. R.D., author, Appetite for Life and founder, HealthBarn USA, what’s on your mind by emailing [email protected].  She’ll answer those questions here weekly.

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